Part One: Marketing Leaders from Sunglass Hut, Wistia, & Klaviyo on What It Really Means to be Data-Driven
When I think about the marketing world’s evolution toward being more “data-driven,” the opening verse from a famous Bob Dylan song comes to mind.
“Come gather ’round people, wherever you roam, and admit that the waters around you have grown; And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone; If your time to you is worth savin’, then you better start swimmin’, Or you’ll sink like a stone; For the times they are a-changin’.”
Thankfully, marketers — the successful ones at least — have changed.
Our discipline has clearly pivoted from a collective of purely gut-driven creatives to a growing herd of dashboard-loving nerds. And, in almost every way, that fondness for data has fundamentally changed marketing for the better — particularly at a time when delivering the personalized experiences consumers expect requires effective use of data.
The problem? For all of the trendiness behind this movement toward being more data-driven, I wonder how many marketers understand what it means to be data-driven? (Hint: It’s more than tracking a few KPIs, poking around in Google Analytics, and running a monthly report).
So, what does it mean? What does a day in the life of a data-driven marketer look like? What do they think about (and why)? How is this data-driven philosophy helping them make better decisions? And what advice would they give to other marketers who are struggling to make sense of the data at their disposal?
To answer those questions, I reached out to three of the most data-driven marketers I know:
- Chris Kobus, Vice President of Marketing, Merchandising, and Digital at Sunglass Hut
- Heather Adams, Vice President of Marketing at Wistia; former SVP of Marketing at Shoebuy
- Agata Celmerowski, Vice President of Marketing at Klaviyo
Here’s what they had to say:
Q: There’s a lot of buzz around being a “data-driven marketer,” but there’s just as much confusion. From your experience, what does it mean to be truly data-driven as a marketer? How would you define it?
Heather Adams: In this day and age, saying “data-driven marketer” really should be unnecessary. It’s hard to imagine being a successful marketer without also being very adept at gathering, analyzing, and using data to make decisions. Being data-driven, to me, means you’ve grown accustomed to seeking and using data to drive decision making wherever possible.
Chris Kobus: I couldn’t agree more.
The famous quote from John Wanamaker — “Half the money I spend on advertising is waste; the trouble is I don’t know which half” — is quickly becoming false. The volumes of data our marketing activities create each day, each hour, each second are increasingly becoming more and more clear. This allows marketers to become more courageous with the decisions they make, and more confident in the results. To me, data-driven marketing is marketing.
Agata Celmerowski: I agree with Heather and Chris, but I’ll add this: A data-driven marketer is someone who understands what the bottom line measure of their success is. They know how to “read” data — from multiple inputs — to see how well they’re doing and how to interpret data to see where the opportunities to improve are.
Q: What does a “day in the life” look like as a data-driven marketer?
Heather: My days typically start with a review of dashboards showing our KPIs, often with annual, monthly, weekly, and sometimes even daily comparisons over prior period and versus plan.
I look for clues in the changes and trends, specifically as it relates to challenges and opportunities. And then I use that data to prioritize projects and initiatives for my team — and often for the company as a whole. Ultimately, this means spending lots of time working on how to integrate various data sources, weighing pros and cons (while trying to identify the best or right “source of truth”), and ultimately using technology to try to stitch it all together to gain a single view of the customer.
Agata: I think it really depends on what the marketer’s functional role is.
I truly believe every marketing position can be “data-driven.” Let’s take someone who’s responsible for optimizing an ecommerce website. They might start their day by looking at how they’re tracking against their sales targets for the month, and then start working backwards from there to see where in their funnel there may be room for improvement.
How are visitors behaving on their site? Do they have the volume of traffic they’re expecting? Where is that traffic coming from? Is there a new source introduced into the mix that has a segment of people behaving differently? And what are people buying? Is there a new product that’s getting more attention?
Once they have a clear picture of what’s going on, they’ll find opportunities for optimization. Let’s say a new ad campaign on Facebook is driving people on the site who aren’t converting into buyers as efficiently as people who are coming in from other channels. A data-driven marketer would speak to their advertising manager, learn a little more about how that campaign on Facebook is being targeted, and devise an alternate landing page that offers messaging and products that are more specific to the profile of the Facebook audience to see if it makes a difference in the conversion rate.
Q: Is “data-driven” really a new term, or is it just something everyone’s suddenly using to describe the age old balance between marketing art and science?
Chris: I think data-driven is just another way of describing someone who’s curious of results, always searching for answers, flexible enough to consider alternatives, and grounded in a deliberate testing mentality. That profile isn’t new. It’s just that we have greater access to data today and a much greater understanding of how it can be applied.
Agata: That’s spot on. I think the availability of data has helped me — and marketers overall — drive better results because we can learn more quickly exactly what works and what doesn’t. Because of that, marketers are in a better place today to execute on the goal of sending “the right message to the right person at the right time.”
The “dark side” of the rise of data available to marketers is that it can create a false sense of security. There’s a famous quote (usually attributed to Einstein, though Gizmodo tells me credit should go to the sociologist William Bruce Cameron): “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
In other words — just because you can (now) measure it, doesn’t mean that it matters.
Heather: I firmly believe that marketing is still part art and part science. There is a time and place for relying on experience, instinct, and making a call with imperfect or incomplete data.
To Be Continued…
Later this week we will post the second half of the interviews, so stay tuned to learn more about what it means to be a data-driven marketer.
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